Brenda Rose is a sweet lady who worked long, hard hours to provide for her sons as best she could while living in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country. That said, if she gets in the way on Saturday night, her youngest will Bull-doze her.
"If it's my mom on the court, she's going to get killed."
With those words, spoken obviously in jest, Derrick Rose sounded the horn on his comeback, which unofficially begins with Saturday's exhibition tip in Indiana. When's the last time a preseason game drew anyone's interest? For sure, even casual basketball fans will break free from their baseball playoff trance and take a sneak at Rose and how he holds up in the few minutes he'll get. Everyone's curious. Will the burst be there? The cutting, the pivoting, the soar? The strong finishes at the rim? Those are the physical gifts that made Rose special, that earned him the MVP in 2011, that allowed him to elevate the Bulls to championship contender before it all went bad on a fateful crash to the floor two Aprils ago.
Since then, it's been one long rehab for Rose, and an even longer quest to regain the faith among those in Chicago who questioned his toughness. The rehab part is over; the image repair remains a work in progress.
If Rose feels burned or betrayed by fans who turned on him quickly, he hasn't shown it. Perhaps comforted by the support from teammates since knee surgery, and also from peers around the league, Rose appears at peace. He refused to lash out or express any anger, at least in public. Most likely, it's not in his personality to be bitter or emotional. Remember, Rose is rare among today's generation in that sense. Even in good times, before his injury, there was no chest-thumping, jersey-pulling or trash-talking, and there's no reason to believe anything has changed. Soft spoken and modest, Rose has taken criticism over his decision to sit out the entire 2012-13 season better than most.
But maybe a snippet of I'll-show-them irritation is what's fueling his vow to show no mercy on the floor this season. That, and the desire to regain his place among the NBA elite, is likely what's driving him here in the preseason. The Bulls are bringing him along slowly and holding him out of some scrimmages. They're not taking chances, and besides, what's the rush? Even though Rose stretched his recovery to 16 months, nearly twice as long as the normal recovery period for ACL surgery, the organization knows there's too much at stake.
"We'll see how much he can handle," said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. "But he's handled everything thus far. We'll try to give him the workload that he'll be facing."
It doesn't take a genius to know what a healthy Rose will do for Chicago this season, and beyond. They reached the second round of the playoffs without him last season. The core of the team is not only still intact, but still in its prime. Joakim Noah is an All-Star, Luol Deng a dangerous wing who's playing for money this season and most of all, Jimmy Butler took major steps without the benefit of Rose. There is great anticipation in Chicago over the Rose-Butler backcourt, because shooting guard was a weakness in Rose's last full season, where he threw the ball to an old Rip Hamilton.
Rose's return should be rather smooth because his surroundings didn't change much during his year off. He has the same coach, same frontcourt and has played minutes with 10 current teammates. Butler is the only "newcomer" who'll see more minutes, and with his athletic ability, defenses won't have the luxury of trapping Rose as much as they did two years ago.
With a deeper bench that includes Kirk Hinrich and now Mike Dunleavy, the Bulls are thinking big, armed with the belief that nobody in the East -- not even the $100 million-plus Nets -- added more star-power in the offseason, considering Rose is, in a sense, an addition.
"His ability to make plays, create opportunities for teammates, making it easier for everybody, that's going to be great for us," Thibodeau said. "But we can't allow it to all fall on him. We need everybody."
Obviously, though, everything depends on Rose and what he'll bring after surgery. With his type of injury, and his style of play, it's hard to project whether he can instantly resume where he left off, or if his full recovery will be more gradual. For now, the Bulls can only go on a week's worth of sneak-peeks, and those have been encouraging. Carlos Boozer not only raved about Rose in the practice sessions the other day, but figures Rose will be "even better" in certain phases of the game.
If Rose is virtually the same player who broke ankles and reached the rim with ease and knocked down mid-range jumpers, then won't that be a confirmation of his decision to play it safe and sit out a year?
"Our owner did not want him coming back until Derrick felt 100 percent," Thibodeau said. "That's what Derrick did. He made sure he was comfortable. His game is very explosive, with the change of direction, and you just can't put a player out there like that. Derrick wanted to be able to play his game. When you look at what he is as a person, there's not a more loyal, hard working person out there. And he means a lot to our team. For him to take that criticism was unfair. It was a tough decision for him to make but it was also the right decision."
The next step is partly up to Thibodeau and the Bulls. The coach was correct; the Bulls can't lean on Rose quite like before, because it wasn't enough to get them to the NBA Finals, and Rose could use some relief, at least initially, because of his time off. The good news is that Noah and Butler have improved offensively, Deng remains a 15-point scorer and the Bulls still play some of the best defense in the league.
In the preseason, Rose probably won't see more than 20 minutes a game, and the Bulls are spacing his scrimmages in practice. He sat out one scrimmage just days after camp opened, which initially raised some fear outside the organization, but Thibodeau cautioned that resting Rose wasn't a reaction to any setback in his recovery. Just standard business at this point.
"The big thing is to pace him and whatever he shows he can handle, that's what we'll do," said Thibodeau. "We have to see how he responds and go step by step. If he needs rest, we'll give him rest. If he can play more, we'll give him playing time. I trust Derrick. We'll do what we can for him. I'm confident he'll be fine."
The season is less than a month away, and it opens in smashing style with a visit to the defending champion Heat. Rose will be tested right away, although he and the Bulls should have a better understanding by then of what he can and can't do.
That process takes another step in Indiana and the preseason opener.
"I'm excited about getting started," Rose said. "It's almost like proving myself all over again."